Let sleeping vets lie, p.19
Let Sleeping Vets Lie, p.19James Herriot
and grinning sheepishly moved with care along the side of the horse. He
passed Cliff on the way and the little man's head didn't . reach his
Cliff seemed thoroughly insulted by the whole business. He took hold of
the I head collar and regarded the big animal with the disapproving
stare of a schoolmaster at a naughty child. The horse, still in the mood
for trouble, laid i back his ears and began to plunge about the stall,
his huge feet clattering ominously on the stone floor, but he came to
rest quickly as the little man uppercutted him furiously in the ribs.
"Get stood up straight there, ye big bugger. What's the matter with ye?"
Cliff barked and again he planted his tiny fist against the swelling
barrel of the chest, ' a puny blow which the animal could scarcely have
felt but which reduced him to quivering submission. "Try to kick, would
you, eh? I'll bloody fettle you!" He shook the head collar and fixed the
horse with a hypnotic stare as he spoke. Then he turned to me. "You can
come and do your job, Mr. Herriot, he won't hurt tha."
I looked irresolutely at the huge, lethal animal. Stepping open-eyed
into 4' dangerous situations is something vets are called upon regularly
to do and I suppose we all react differently. I know there were times
when an over-vivid imagination made me acutely aware of the dire
possibilities and now my mind seemed to be dwelling voluptuously on the
frightful power in those enormous shining quarters on the unyielding
flintiness of the spatulate feet with their rims of metal. Cliff's voice
cut into my musings. ~
"Come on, Mr. Herriot, I tell ye he won't hurt tha."
I reopened my box and tremblingly threaded another needle. I didn't seem
to have much option; the little man wasn't asking me, he was telling me.
I'd have to try again.
I couldn't have been a very impressive sight as I shuffled forwards,
almost tripping over the tattered hula-hula skirt which dangled in front
of me, my shaking hands reaching out once more for the wound, my heart
thundering in my ears. But I needn't have worried. It was just as the
little man had said; he didn't hurt me. In fact he never moved. He
seemed to be listening attentively to the muttering which Cliff was
directing into his face from a few inches" range. I powdered and
stitched and clipped as though working on an anatomical specimen.
Chloroform couldn't have done it any better.
As I retreated thankfully from the stall and began again to put away my
instruments the monologue at the horse's head began to change its
The menacing growl was replaced by a wheedling, teasing chuckle. ::
"Well, ye see, you're just a daft awd bugger, getting yourself all
airigated over nowt. You're a good lad, really, aren't ye, a real good
lad." Cliff's hand ran caressingly over the neck and the towering animal
began to nuzzle his cheek, as completely in his sway as any Labrador
When he had finished he came slowly from the stall, stroking the back,
ribs, belly and quarters, even giving a playful tweak at the tail on
parting while what had been a few minutes ago an explosive mountain of
bone and muscle submitted happily.
I pulled a packet of Gold Flake from my pocket. "Cliff, you're a marvel.
Will you have a cigarette?"
"It 'ud be like givin" a pig a strawberry," the little man replied, then
he thrust forth his tongue on which reposed a half-chewed gobbet of
tobacco. "It's allus there. Ah push it in just thing every mornin" soon
as I get out of bed and there it stays. You'd never know, would you?"
I must have looked comically surprised because the dark eyes gleamed ann
the rugged little face split into a delighted grin. I looked at that
grin - boyish, invincible - and reflected on the phenomenon that was
In a community in which toughness and durability was the norm he stood
out as something exceptional. When I had first seen him nearly three
years ago barging among cattle, grabbing their noses and hanging on
effortlessly, I had put him down as an unusually fit middle-aged man;
but he was in fact nearly seventy There wasn't much of him but he was
formidable; with his long arms swinging, his stumping, pigeon-toed gait
and his lowered head he seemed always to be butting his way through
"I didn't expect to see you today," I said. "I heard you had pneumonia."
He shrugged. "Aye, summat of t'sort. First time I've ever been off work
since I was a lad."
"And you should be in your bed now, I should say." I looked at the
heaving chest and partly open mouth. "I could hear you wheezing away
when you were at the horse's head."
"Nay, I can't stick that nohow. I'll be right in a day or two." He
seized a shovel and began busily clearing away the heap of manure behind
the horse, his breathing loud and stertorous in the silence.
Harland Grange was a large, mainly arable farm in the low country at the
foot of the Dale, and there had been a time when this stable had had a
horse standing in every one of the long row of stalls. There had been
over twenty with at least twelve regularly at work, but now there were
only two, the young horse I had been treating and an ancient grey called
Cliff had been head horseman and when the revolution came he turned to
tractoring and other jobs around the farm with no fuss at all. This was
typical of the reaction of thousands of other farm workers throughout
the country; they didn't set up a howl at having to abandon the skills
of a lifetime and start anew - they just got on with it. In fact, the
younger men seized avidly upon the new machines and proved themselves
But to the old experts like Cliff, something had gone. He would say:
"It's a bloody sight easier sitting on a tractor - it used to play 'elf
with me feet walking up and down them fields all day." But he couldn't
lose his love of horses; the fellow feeling between working man and
working beast which had grown in him since childhood and was in his
My next visit to the farm was to see a fat bullock with a piece of
turnip stuck in his throat but while I was there, the farmer, Mr.
Gilling, asked me to have a look at old Badger.
"He's had a bit of a cough lately. Maybe it's just his age, but see what
you The old horse was the sole occupant of the stable now. "I've sold
the three year old," Mr. Gilling said. "But I'll still keep the old 'un
he'll be useful for a bit of light carting."
I glanced sideways at the farmer's granite features. He looked the least
sentimental of men but I knew why he was keeping the old horse. It was
for "Cliff will be pleased, anyway," I said.
Mr. Gilling nodded. "Aye, I never knew such a feller for 'osses. He was
never happier than when he was with them." He gave a short laugh. "Do
you know, I can remember years ago when he used to fall out with his
missus he'd come down to this stable of a night and sit among his
'osses. Just sit here for
was before he started chewing tobacco."
"And did you have Badger in those days?"
Aye, we bred him. Cliff helped at his foaling - I remember the little
beggar came arse first and,we had a bit of a job pullin" him out." He
smiled again. "Maybe that's why he was always Cliff's favourite. He
always worked Badge" himself - year in year out - and he was that proud
of 'im that if he had to take him into the town for any reason he'd
plait ribbons into his mane and hang all; his brasses on him first." He
shook his head reminiscently.
The old horse looked round with mild interest as I went up to him He we.
in his late twenties and everything about him suggested serene old age;
the gaunt; projection of the pelvic bones, the whiteness of face and
muzzle, the sunken eye with its benign expression. As I was about to
take his temperature he gave a sharp, barking cough and it gave me the
first clue to his ailment. I watched the rise and fall of his breathing
for a minute or two and the second clue was there to be seen; further
examination was unnecessary.
"He's broken winded, Mr. Gilling," I said. "Or he's got pulmonary
emphysema" to give it its proper name. Do you see that double lift of
the abdomen as he breaths out? That's because his lungs have lost their
elasticity and need an extra. effort to force the air out."
"What's caused it, then?"
"Well it's to do with his age, but he's got a bit of cold on him at the
moment and that's brought it out."
"Will he get rid of it in time?" the farmer asked.
"He'll be a bit better when he gets over his cold, but I'm afraid he'll
never be quite right. I'll give you some medicine to put in his drinking
water which will alleviate his symptoms." I went out to the car for a
bottle of the arsenical expectorant mixture which we used then.
It was about six weeks later that I heard from Mr. Gilling again. He
rang me about seven o'clock one evening.
"I'd like you to come out and have a look at old Badger," he said.
"What's wrong? Is it his broken wind again?"
"No, it's not that. He's still got the cough but it doesn't seem to
bother him much. No, I think he's got a touch of colic. I've got to go
out but Cliff will attend to you." ~
The little man was waiting for me in the yard. He was carrying an oil
lamp. As I came up to him I exclaimed in horror.
"Good God, Cliff, what have you been doing to yourself?" His face was a
patchwork of cuts and scratches and his nose, almost without skin,
jutted from between two black eyes.
He grinned through the wounds, his eyes dancing with merriment. "Came
off me bike t'other day. Hit a stone and went right over handlebars,
arse over tip." He burst out laughing at the very thought.
"But damn it, man, haven't you been to a doctor? You're not fit to be
out in that state."
"Doctor? Nay, there's no need to bother them fellers. It's nowt much."
He fingered a gash on his jaw. "Ah lapped me chin up for a day in a bit
o" bandage, but it's right enough now."
I shook my head as I followed him into the stable. He hung up the oil
lamp" then went over to the horse. ,?
"Can't reckon t'awd feller up," he said. "You'd think there wasn't much
ailin him but there's summat"."
There were no signs of violent pain but the animal kept transferring
his,weight from one hind foot to the other as if he did have a little
abdominal discomfort. His temperature was normal and he didn't show
symptoms a anything else.
~t I looked at him doubtfully. "Maybe he has a bit of colic. There's
nothing else to see, anyway. I'll give him an injection to settle him
"Right you are, maister, that's good." Cliff watched me get my syringe
out then he looked around him into the shadows at the far end of the
"Funny seeing only one 'oss standing here. I remember when there was a
great row of 'em and the barfins and bridles hangin" there on the stalls
and the rest of the harness behind them all shinin" on "'wall." He
transferred his plug of tobacco to the other side of his mouth and
smiled. "By yaw, I were in here at six o'clock every morning feedin"
them and gettin" them ready for work and Ah'll tell you it was a sight
to see us all going" off ploughing at the start o" the day. Maybe six
pairs of 'osses setting off with their harness jinglin" and the
ploughmen sittin" sideways on their backs. Like a regular procession it
I smiled. "It was an early start, Cliff."
"Aye, by Gaw, and a late finish. We'd bring the 'osses home at night and
give 'em a light feed and take their harness off, then we'd go and have
our own teas and we'd be back 'ere again afterwards, curry-combing and
dandy-brushin" all the sweat and dirt off 'em. Then we'd give them a
right good stiff feed of chop and oats and hay to set 'em up for the
"There wouldn't be much left of the evening then, was there?"
"Nay, there wasn't. It was about like work and bed, I reckon, but it
never bothered us."
I stepped forward to give Badger the injection, then paused. The old
horse had undergone a slight spasm, a barely perceptible stiffening of
the muscles, and as I looked at him.he cocked his tail for a second then
"There's something else here," I said. "Will you bring him out of his
stall Cliff, and let me see him walk across the yard."
And watching him clop over the cobbles I saw it again; the stiffness,
the raising of the tail. Something clicked in my mind, I walked over and
rapped him under the chin and as the membrane nictitans flicked across
his eye then slid slowly back I knew.
I paused for a moment. My casual little visit had suddenly become
charged with doom.
"Cliff," I said. "I'm afraid he's got tetanus."
"Lockjaw, you mean?" ~
"That's right. I'm sorry, but there's no doubt about it. Has he had any
wounds lately - especially in his feet?"
"Well he were dead lame about a fortnight ago and blacksmith let some
matter out of his hoof. Made a right big 'ole."
There it was. "It's a pity he didn't get an anti-tetanus shot at the
time," I said. I put my hand into the animal's mouth and tried to prise
it open but the jaws were clamped tightly together. "I don't suppose
he's been able to eat today."
"He had a bit this morning but nowt tonight. What's the lookout for him,
Mr. Herriot ?" What indeed? If Cliff had asked me the same question
today I would have been just as troubled to give him an answer. The
facts are that seventy to eighty per cent of tetanus cases die and
whatever you do to them in the way of treatment doesn't seem to make a
whit of difference to those figures. But I didn't want to sound entirely
"It's a very serious condition as you know, Cliff, but I'll do all I
can. I've got some antitoxin in the car and I'll inject that into his
vein and if the spasms get very bad I'll give him a sedative. As long as
fluids - gruel would be fine."
For a few days Badger didn't get any worse and I began to hope. I've
seen tetanus horses recover and it is a wonderful experience to come in
one day and find that the jaws have relaxed and the hungry animal can
once more draw food into its mouth But it didn't happen with Badger.
They had got the old horse into a big loose box where he could move
around in comfort and each day as I looked over the half door I felt
myself willing him to show some little sign of improvement; but instead,
after that first few days he began to deteriorate. A sudden movement; or
the approach of any person would throw him into a violent spasm so that
he would stagger stiff-legged round the box like a big wooden toy, his
eyes terrified, saliva drooling from between his fiercely clenched
teeth. One morning I we, sure he would fall and I suggested putting him
in slings. I had to go back to the surgery for the slings and it was
just as I was entering Skeldale House that th. phone rang.
It was Mr. Gilling. "He's beat us to it, I'm afraid. He's flat out on
the floor and I doubt it's a bad job, Mr. Herriot. We'll have to put him
down, won't we?"
"I'm afraid so."
"There's just one thing. Mallock will be taking him away but old Cliff
says he doesn't want Mallock to shoot 'im. Wants you to do it. Will you
I got out the humane killer and drove back to the farm, wondering at the
Let Sleeping Vets Lie by James Herriot / Humor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes